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Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK
England fans enjoy party
The excitement proves too much for BBC Sport Online's Chris Slegg
One too many congas for our man Chris in Niigata

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As a dozen mini congas snaked their way around Niigata's Big Swan stadium, there was no doubt that England's assault on the World Cup had finally started.

A dance which went on deep into the night began well before the final whistle against Denmark.

The knockout stages of the World Cup may as well be a different tournament altogether for England.

After the sterile Sweden display and the negative Nigeria performance, no-one could have expected this.

When it is do or die, the tension is heightened and the passions are stirred to their limits.

From here on in every match seems like the final itself.

England fans conga round the stadium
England fans dance around the stadium

And everybody inside another of Japan's many impressive stadiums was a bag of nerves long before kick-off.

There was a completely different mood from that experienced in the run-up to the group matches.

With one defeat spelling certain doom, it is hard not to feel a lump in the throat and a shiver down the spine.

Fortunately for England, it seems such anxiety affected Denmark goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen more than anyone.

From the moment he fumbled Rio Ferdinand's header into the net, the Three Lions contingent were in little doubt that their side could make it to the last eight.

Open Quote
The warm friendship the hosts have extended to their visitors will leave an indelible impression on everyone
Close Quote
Chris Slegg
England fan

And after Michael Owen and Emile Heskey sealed the result the party could begin in earnest.

The huge England following that has travelled to the Far East is perhaps more unified than ever before.

Few supporters display club colours at matches - a trend which has so often plagued international games at home.

Individual loyalties have been put aside, wth every venue visited so far awash with a sea of red and white.

England fans are also now comforted by the knowledge that they will receive a keen welcome from the Japanese wherever they play.

The warm friendship the hosts have extended to their visitors will leave an indelible impression on everyone who has been lucky enough to attend this tournament.

Talk in the Niigata street parties after the game was of the possible semi-final meeting between the two countries.

There is still a lot of football to be played before that can happen - but both sets of supporters would cherish such an encounter.


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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1

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